Habeco, one of the largest local brewers, announced the state’s divestment a long time ago, but the plan has yet to be implemented because of existing problems in negotiations with Carlsberg, a strategic shareholder.
Carlsberg, which now holds a 17.5% of Habeco, now wants to acquire a 51% stake.
The problem is that Habeco not only makes beer, but also liquor and foodstuff, fields in which foreign investors are not allowed to hold more than 49% of enterprises’ charter capital.
Vu Vinh Phu, former deputy director of the Hanoi Trade Department, has warned that Habeco may be swallowed by Carlsberg and as a result the brand could disappear from the market.
Vietnam is an attractive beer market in the eyes of foreign brewers, including Carlsberg, with nearly 4 billion liters of beer consumed every year. In Vietnam, Habeco holds a 18% market share, ranking third after Sabeco and Heineken.
Huda, a brewer in the central city of Hue, was created by Bia Hue which teamed up with Carlsberg to set up the 50/50 joint venture in 1994. The brand quickly became well known in the central region.
After two decades of operation under the mode of a joint venture, in 2011, Carlsberg showed its intention to acquire Huda when buying capital contributed by the Thua Thien – Hue provincial People’s Committee. Finally, Huda, which was a joint venture, became a 100 percent foreign-owned enterprise.
Carlsberg reportedly spent VND1.875 trillion to buy a stake, of which VND1.1 trillion was paid for ‘Bia Huda’.
“Carlsberg is a strategic shareholder in Habeco and it understands the value of Habeco. The most valuable thing in Habeco is the brand. Besides, the brewer also owns land plots in advantageous positions,” Phu said.
He went on to warn that if Carlsberg can acquire a 51% stake, it will become the main manager, and if so, Vietnamese will become hired workers for foreigners.
An analyst, agreeing with Phu, said there are matters the state needs to pay special attention to.
First, Habeco buyers should be asked to commit to continue using Habeco. Second, foreign strategic shareholders should be allowed to hold no more than a 49% stake.
Third, it is necessary to clarify the rights that Habeco’s workers have after the state’s divestment.
Foreign investors have also shown their interest in Sabeco, including leading beverage and food conglomerates such as Heineken, AB InBev, ThaiBev and Asahi.